Self-publisher. Vanity Press. Independent Author. You say tomater, I say tomato, right?
Not at all. Unless you’ve been locked in Christian Grey’s Red Room of Pleasure for the past few years, you’ll be aware of the self-publishing revolution. The success stories are fifty shades of publishing folklore – but it isn’t universally good news. Now that any muppet with opposable thumbs can become a published author, it’s incredibly hard to make your work stand out.
Assuming you haven’t chosen traditional publishing – or it hasn’t chosen you – there are broadly three ways to get your book out there:
a) Self-publishing – you undertake the entire publishing process yourself, from writing and editing, to cover design, to publishing and distributing.
b) Assisted publishing – you pay an author services provider to publish your work. Please do your homework before swimming in this tank – it is filled with sharks. Check out Preditors and Editors for companies blacklisted by writers.
c) Independent publishing – you work with other publishing professionals, replicating the traditional publishing process yourself.
The Alliance of Independent Authors has a wealth of advice for each route, as does the excellent Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn. I have chosen route c) for my debut novel Who Let the Gods Out?, so here are my thoughts on establishing yourself as an independent author.
1) Call in the experts
Unless you are a supremely gifted human, the chances are that you are not a professional writer, editor, graphic designer, illustrator, proof reader, distributor, marketing executive and salesperson.
You may have talents in some of these areas and of course it’s daft to have a dog and bark yourself. But your book will be immeasurably improved for someone else’s professional input.
Top of this list is editing. This differs from proof reading (which is also essential); a good book editor will read tell you where your story/characters/dialogue do and don’t work and suggest improvements. Writers are totally blind to our own faults and a decent editor (the homework rule applies here too) can make a good book great. That Bang2write isn’t bad apparently…
Cover design is also crucial. Yes, we DO judge a book by its cover. What’s the point in writing the next Great Expectations with a cover that looks like your Mum made it?
Set a budget for what you can afford to lose and deploy your cash where you need the most help. All businesses require some capital outlay – why should publishing be any different?
2) Buy your own ISBNs
Many author and distribution services like Bookbaby will sell or give you an ISBN – an International Standard Book Number. This registers your work and logs sales data. It is a requirement to sell on some sites (iBooks and Amazon require them, Amazon KDP does not).
If you choose an ISBN number from your service provider, the title is registered as published by them. Buy them yourself and you can register them to a publishing name of your choosing. I chose to publish my book under my Story Stew brand, the creative writing programme I run for children. I agree with those who say that readers don’t shop by publisher, but why register your book to a publisher who hasn’t invested in your work?
In the UK, ISBNs are sold by Nielsen in batches of 10 (£132), 100 (£318) or 1,000 (£846). In the US, Bowker is the place to go, where single ISBNs start at $125. You need an ISBN for every edition of your book – paperback/hardback/Kindle format (.mobi)/Ebook (iBook/Nook/Kobo etc) so if you’re planning several titles in the near future, you’ll need plenty of ISBNs.
3) Consider a short print run
I offer this advice with extreme caution because it involves laying out money you might never see again. Vanity is dangerous for an author and it’s easy to get carried away.
Many providers such as Amazon’s Createspace and Lulu offer print on demand (POD) services that will only print a physical copy when one is ordered, meaning you don’t have to lay out any money up front. This is a far safer option, particularly for titles that you don’t anticipate making a lot of print sales, but would like the choice.
The downside? The unit cost of these books can be unattractively, even prohibitively high if you want to attract buyers and make money. There are also certain books that won’t POD so well, i.e. very picture-heavy books or those aimed at an audience that won’t be so e-reader savvy.
Many authors make POD work for their books – and even if you’re making pennies per sale, you can still make money on zero outlay. But if you have a realistic direct sales platform, the margins are much better on a short print run.
I have chosen the short run route with Clays because a) my book is a children’s novel and b) I have an established sales platform for my book. I run my Story Stew kids’ creative writing workshops at literary festivals (such as The Hay Festival next week) and travel the country visiting primary schools – indeed one of the motivations for writing the book was children and their parents asking me after my workshops where they could buy my book!
To put it in perspective, for direct sales and sales through my website, I make 59% profit on every paperback sale of Who Let the Gods Out? Even after fees, I make 34% online through Amazon. Show me a publishing deal that offers that!
But it’s not all rosy in the garden. My break even point for my first print run was 420 physical copies (although this didn’t take ebook sales into account). This is a lofty target for an unknown author and not one I’d recommend if you’re fond of your teeth and nails.
The great news is that there is now a world of choice for writers that didn’t exist even a few years ago. Do your homework, be realistic and you too might just enjoy fifty shades of success.
BIO: Mary Evans is a freelance writer and independent author. Her debut novel Who Let the Gods Out? is available in paperback and e-formats via her Website and all major e-retailers.
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